The Five Most Effective Speakers

Or The Five People That The Majority Hated

Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash

James Baldwin, Tony Benn, Winston Churchill, Enoch Powell, and Malcolm X were great orators. However, if you are familiar with any of them, you may view them as dislikeable people. You may even 'hate' some of them or maybe all of them.

Why is that? Maybe the main reason is that they all speak bluntly and to the point. Many people dislike hearing another brand of 'truth,' especially those they view as 'dangerous.'

I do not have to like or agree with someone I listen to. I find the best way to critique my thoughts is to listen to those I can not entirely agree with. That is to say, for example, when I buy a car, I do not just listen to myself and my views about the car. I also hear and read other points of view about the car. I might not change my mind, but then again, I might change my mind. Buying a car with tunnel vision is just as bad as having an opinion with tunnel vision. At the same time, we should make demands of those we listen to. For example, in the recent political arena, the USA's leadership were cult speeches meaning they could have said Blue was Green, which would have been okay. I always try to remember Christopher Hitchens's suggestion, "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

George Orwell once wrote, "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." If you are like me and many others, we do not always enjoy being told something we do not want to hear. One of the main reasons for that discomfort is no one enjoys being wrong. However, if and when you become comfortable listening or reading about issues opposite to your beliefs, there is a small opportunity to change your thinking. The speakers listed below definitely made us uncomfortable.

Tony Benn: The Most Dangerous Man in Britain

Tony Benn, formerly Lord Anthony Wedgewood Benn, was known as the most dangerous man in Britain. Upon his death in 2014, the arch-enemy, Conservative Prime Minister of the UK, said of Benn, "… he was an extraordinary man: a great writer, a brilliant speaker, extraordinary in Parliament, and a great life of public and political and parliamentary service. I mean, I disagreed with most of what he said. But he was always engaging and interesting, and you were never bored when reading or listening to him, and the country a great campaigner, a great writer, and someone who I'm sure whose words will be followed keenly for many, many years to come."

I met Tony Benn many years ago in Blackpool, England, at the Labour Party Conference. I could have listened to him all day long. His enthusiasm and firm belief in his convictions made me feel his sincerity. I understood many people did not like him; however, much of what I became resulted from listening to Tony Benn.

My favorite quote from James Baldwin is, "It is very nearly impossible to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind." James Baldwin always had much to say about being black and gay in America. And I loved his highly educated bluntness. He was not one to hide his feelings about the situation; he was a black child in Harlem, born in 1924 in the America of the KKK. Of most interest to me is although his peak of influence was the 1950s and 1960s, the words he spoke then could have been delivered today. Nothing has changed for a poor black man and a poor white man in the USA today. I admired James for his ability to stand up to what had previously been his betters. As he did so, it became evident that much of what he had to say was true and from his heart.

Enoch Powell was a man of his time. Enoch Powell had the most refined mind in the House of Commons when he served as a Member of Parliament. As a child, I listened to his speeches and interviews often. However, even as a child, I disagreed with his capital, profit, and competitive market philosophy at all costs. I certainly disagreed with his views on immigration. The previous war generation did agree with him and wanted Britain to remain a white Britain. Many in my generation thought differently. At the same time, I loved hearing him argue his points of view. An extremely talented orator was a romantic British nationalist who viewed the nation-state as "the ultimate political reality." I have always been opposed to anything smelling of Nationalism, having been so close to the time when Nationalism in Europe and Asia caused so much death and destruction. Enoch Powell was not someone I agreed with but admired greatly as an orator.

Unless you have been living on another planet all your life, you will know Malcolm X. At one time the most hated man in the USA. Why? Well, I submit to you because he told the truth. People in power do not want to be reminded of the abuses used to control those they have power over. Malcolm X was a controversial figure accused of preaching racism and violence; however, the alternate viewpoint was that he demanded racial justice. During my American studies Honors degree, I spent a plethora of time reading and watching civil rights speeches. Malcolm X offered not only civil rights speeches but also Human rights speeches. His words ring true today as they did almost 60 years ago.

Again, Winston Churchill was a man of his time. Ideologically Winston was an economic liberal and imperialist. I love listening to his speeches about my birth land, and they usually bring a tear to my eye. However, I disagree with his views on imperialism or his controversial views surrounding race. Along with JFK's funeral in 1963, Winston Churchill's funeral in 1965 was my first childhood memory. I still recall watching their funerals on black and white TV in our small council house. I admired Winston for his wartime leadership and the fine orator he was, but I am not surprised he lost the first general election after WW II. Even with an American mother, a man born into the aristocracy would always be out of touch with the British working class.

Yes, I know, I am not that stupid. Yes, they are all dead. The answer I was looking for was they are all now part of our history. In other words, we can choose to ignore them, thereby ignoring our history, or we can learn from them, thereby identifying events and ideas to understand better how they unfolded and why they occurred. George Orwell may be right in his assertion, "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." If history means anything at all, it also means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. I prefer that way of thinking compared to Alan Bennett's The History Boys, which suggests history is no more than "one fucking thing after another." Much can be gained, even from those we dislike; they have talent. Listen to them. "Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory." — Winston Churchill.



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Steve Arrowsmith MA

I live &write on two continents ⚽🏈 teacher, coach, and writer. Religious cults/Mormonism are my main interests. Contact me at